I fought for safe schools in the 1980s, and teachers and parents should do the same today. In 1983 the issue of asbestos blew up at the school I was working at—Knightwood Secondary in Glasgow.
Teachers had found ceiling tiles lined with asbestos. Whenever a worker would come in to do repairs, you’d see the dust when they were drilling. The council confirmed that asbestos covered a significant area of the school.
But we were told that it was safe. I remember a council worker telling me that asbestos was so safe you could eat a teaspoon of it. At the time I was an EIS union rep, and in a meeting where we discussed what to do about the asbestos.
A minority of us argued that we should go on strike. The EIS supported us bringing up the issue, but it didn’t support us striking. So 15 of us decided to go on an unofficial strike.
We were called into the assembly hall on the day of the strike, and management told us we should give up. We told them we wouldn’t give up, and after discussion, management agreed to our demands.
They promised in writing to remove all asbestos from the school. Even though we didn’t end up striking, we made a big impact. Everyone knew about it, and students told their parents about it, and it put more pressure on the management.
The Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) scandal has led to the threat that more asbestos could be uncovered when the repairs are made.
It’s important to remember, that because asbestos is expensive to remove and employers can be slow to fix it, they put profit first. Workers, parents and students must raise their voices about unsafe schools, and strike if they need to.
A warning from Wigan
In Wigan an elected councillor recently called an anti-refugee protest and stood on a platform with Nazis
Independent councillor Maureen O’Bern organised the racist protest against refugees being placed in a well-known hotel in the area. At this demonstration there were members of the fascist group Patriotic Alternative, and Nazis were allowed to speak.
Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) activists organised a protest to counter the racist demonstration. Trade unions, including the NEU, Unison and the local trades council supported our counter‑protest. But no Labour Partry councillors came.
I think that’s because they want to win the votes of racists. Wigan’s Labour MP Lisa Nandy even recently wrote to the Home Office asking for refugees not to be housed in the hotel.
The protest was a warning to anti-racists in Wigan and elsewhere. We were able to mobilise about 60 onto the streets, but O’Bern managed to get hundreds to her protest.
We must build a deeper and more rooted anti-racist movement in Wigan to make sure we outnumber them. It’s also a warning that anti-refugee protests aren’t just being called by sections of the far right.
They’re being called by elected candidates who sit on our councils, who think that they can win the votes of racists.
Consultants should have our solidarity in their fight
Roger from Sheffield (Letters, 29 August) is wrong to say that consultants are “senior managers”.
Some are—in the same way that some nurses and other health workers become managers and relinquish clinical roles. But the vast majority of consultants are not managers. They are workers that labour for a wage.
I agree with Roger that consultants are well paid, but this is not a reason for them not to fight to defend terms and conditions. Consultants, like many other workers, have suffered a 35 percent pay erosion under this Tory government.
Consultants fighting back can only give confidence to others.
We should not pit one group of workers against another. We should unite and fight for decent pay for all and to get rid of this awful government.
The food industry drives weight problems
Socialist Worker is right to point out that the real winners from the weight loss drug Wegovy will not be patients but private healthcare firms and big pharma’s shareholders. (Socialist Worker, 5 September).
In my 40 years of experience as a GP, drugs have never been the long-term—and rarely the short-term—solution for weight loss. An obesity epidemic has been manufactured by the capitalist system which creates and markets ultra-processed food.
Shockingly 57 percent of the total energy intake in Britain now comes in the form of ultra‑processed food, resulting in 64 percent of the adult population of Britain being overweight or obese. Giving a handful of people Wegovy will do almost nothing to change this.
Capitalism’s food industry has created this problem.
Food policy needs to change fast so that real food is more affordable than ultra‑processed junk without the price of food going up. It may take a revolution to achieve this, but without this change, thousands upon thousands are ending up dying early and living much of their lives in ill health.
Labour is wrong—mental health matters
It’s appalling that Keir Starmer has abandoned his mental health minister when mental distress continues to rise.
Hospitals are being sold off, and people with long term conditions are emptied onto the streets. Young people with mental health issues are being accommodated miles from home, some of whom take their own life.
How can Starmer say he “doesn’t see a space” for a mental health minister?
Bosses won’t invest in wind
The government has failed to secure a single bidder for the construction of offshore wind farms in Britain—which is no surprise. The bosses said the Tories weren’t offering them enough money to build them.
This is why a switch to renewables under a capitalist system won’t work. If the corporations don’t see an opportunity to make mega-profits, they won’t invest.
Heat will kill worker
As global warming worsens, workers will be forced to work in hotter conditions. We must prepare for this.
Currently there are no maximum or minimum temperatures in which workers can continue their job. This is a disgrace.
During the height of the Covid pandemic, the bosses were somewhat forced to try and provide PPE or hand sanitiser—although many failed.
Workers must campaign for suncream to be provided by the bosses for those working outside and pressure the government to impose a maximum temperature at which workers can work in.